Television & mental health

By Zubeida Mustafa

True, we have politicians – in the government and in opposition – who have failed to display a measure of competence, integrity and statesmanship. We have an army which sucks up a huge chunk of our resources and yet has not provided us the security one could rightly expect from it. We have economic managers who have been unable or unwilling to shape the national economy in a way as to bring some relief to the people. All this is bad enough.

But does that mean that the media should also join forces with the purveyors of the ills that the country is suffering from to become a 24/7 perpetrator of a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. It has been argued, and very convincingly too, that the media’s prime responsibility is to inform and educate. By concealing information the media will only harm the country as happened in the past when the governments of the day muzzled the press.

It would be ridiculous to argue for information to be concealed from the public because it is bad. People must be told what is happening to pre-empt speculation and rumours. But what is questionable is the manner in which this information is conveyed. If the idea is to inform the viewer and hopefully to also educate him, it can be done without packaging the news with a lot of excitement and sensationalism. These are unnecessary frills. Probably television channels feel these frills are essential to attract a big viewership – after all every channel in Pakistan is competing with over 50 others – and thus earn revenues by grabbing ads. But is it ethical to resort to such unethical tactics for purely monetary gains?

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15 thoughts on “Television & mental health

  1. Ma'am congratulation for this wonderful piece effects. This is a reality that TV anchors ae ready to do everything to promote their rankings, otherwise, they can lose their jobs. As a senior producer in one of Pakistan's leading channel, I can tell you that practitionors are advised to sensationalized to gran more audience. Also, our journalists are proud to be called obejctive rather than responsible, there is a controversary among communicatoin theorists that which concepts is more feasible. But, fr thhings to improve in Pakistan, I agree with you that journalists will have to realise their responsibility. Hope, good sense prevail among the journalists and they start cognizance of the fact that what they report, has effects on people.

    Shabbir Hussain
    PhD, media researcher

    1. @Shabbir. I didn't realise that people are so disturbed by our TV. Many wrote to me directly narrating their tales of woe. I think it is important that people should speak up. I have worked with a newspaper and I always wanted a feedback from the readers to know how they felt about how we tackled many issues. If people keep quiet, the producer, anchor, etc believe they are doing the right thing.

  2. Yet again, a truly scholarly analysis of a rather undermined issue – keep writing Sister.

    I just updated my blog with another important lyrical post. You are welcome (

    Brother in Islam

  3. The issue is correctly highlighted, but I am afraid we will only talk about this problem and nothing will be done to improve the performance of our media.

    How can it be improved? The practitioners (from technicians to reporters) lack professionalism. And this is because most of them are not trained that way.

    1. @Zain Nabi. The issue of training is a very important one. Sometimes the people we are talking about are not trained. But worse is the case of those who lack ethics.

  4. My dear Zubeida,
    As always you have the urge, capacity and creativity to highlight issues and phenomenon generally neglected. Very succinctly put views, that are hardly debatable, As you say, rightly, it is the function of media to inform and educate; but not to ruthlessly inform, coerce and even cajole people to accept an untenable world view at times. You correctly lament the lack of responsibility demonstrated by the electronic media. Press freedom, like all other freedoms, is the right to do what you ought, not the right to do what you like. Liberty is not license.
    Sincerely yours, as ever,
    Javed Hasan Aly

    1. @Javed. We still have to realise that there is a difference between freedom and license.

  5. It is sad to see media anchors, who were born just yesterday, tackling subjects like national and international strategy the way they please to do so. Such sensitive issues like that of national security should be dealt with very logically and prudently rather than emotionally to attract common man who himself has no clue to such sensitive issues. Barring a few serious anchors and analysts, most of the discussions being aired so far on our media smells of immaturity to handle issues at critical junctures of our nation today.
    Before telling the people the truth, they must be first conditioned to absorb the truth and issues that cannot be discussed in streets openly.
    At this point in time, when an invisible noose is being tightened around Pakistan, we need to show maturity in our thought to really ponder the backstage activities that are being played against us. The failures of intelligence is actual or blown up, the anger against the army is just or being concocted to make people lose hope in its actual abilities.
    I am happy people with rationale are speaking up and airing their thoughts more rationally here and I hope we mature up to stand up to the challenge being faced today by us.

  6. Dear Zubeida / All,

    If you recall, long time back (20yrs or so) you asked me and published a
    piece in Dawn about printing pictures of dead (mutilated) bodies (I tried to
    locate but canʼt find it).
    However your point about handling the sensitive news/pictures/situation and
    nature of the event, need much to be desired. Inspite of a debate after last
    earthquake, our television has not learnt at all. In my opinion the
    brutalized society that we are living in blast hand today is due to gradual
    desensitization and brutalization especially during Marshal Law days
    (lashing, laws on hand chopping, stoning etc). The empathy has disappeared
    and private torture, bomb, random or target killing come easy without guilt.
    Hope our television media revisit the promise made soon after last
    earthquake reporting.
    Dr. Haroon Ahmed

    Dear Prof. S. Haroon Ahmed

  7. A first class article, as per usual. I couldn't agree with you more. How many times have we seen on the BBC that blood soaked floor where apparently Osama died? How many times do they play the killing of protesters in Syria etc. One simply gets indigestion.
    Although I did not watch the wedding, I did see it on the News, and it made such a welcome break because they made a handsome couple and she wore a stunning dress. Zubeida, I am a news hound and have been all my life. I think most writers and journalists are as they wish to keep up to date with what's going on in the world, but more and more, I find myself turning off the TV in disgust.
    Something I watch now which has no impact, would have shocked me a few years ago. Now it just appals and I turn off.
    Certain graphic things I can't bring myself to watch such as Saddam's execution. Just as the trapdoor swings open and he is about to go forward, I turn off. Why do we have to be subjected to these things. It does not prove he is dead or alive or justice is being done! The first time it happened and almost every time after, one was not forewarned. I find so often my instinct is my warning voice to turn the TV off. We should not live in that kind of mood watching the news. What about the children?
    And yes, this Breaking News is a joke. Some unknown sportsman falls off a horse and it is headlines. Please spare me….
    Maureen Lines

  8. Liked your article on the "idiot box" and am very much convinced with your arguments. i have bycotted tv since two years on Dr Gulalae's advice who does not have it in her living room / lounge for over five years now and when the tv journalists swarmed her residence on the failed shooting attempt by the Taliban last year she simply shooed them off her premises!
    So much for schizophrenic and paranoid frenzy! i guess its an American dream to have a TV in each home and watch it 24 hours with junk food along with it
    I have lived without it and am happy, healthier and saner! Have advised my friends (and foes!) and relatives on this issue, now I am going to share it with them as its most convincing.
    Here I am reminded of a poignant incident.
    It was one of those normal bustling days on the noisy thoroughfare next to the Khyber Teaching Hospital leading towards Peshawar University. I was standing at the counter of a medicine shop, when suddenly a young boy aged 12-13, stark naked, appeared. He caught everyone's attention and the involuntary derision of the passersby and shopkeepers. With stunned silence they shooed him off, as he just kept walking past one shop after another, asking for alms, with no sense of guilt or shame as the passersby were wont to express and watched with concealed embarrassment.
    I had to struggle with myself to actually gain some strength to call a psychologist at Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) next door for help. It hurt me when I got a negative answer at the other end of the phone. As I tried to seek the assistance of other psychologists and police help in vain. , the image of this fair skinned, blond and handsome boy, who somehow had lost his sense of identity, was fast disappearing from my sightr.
    I could not reconcile myself to the fact that people around him were so oblivious to his suffering or simply chose to ignore him, despite the obvious reality of a vulnerable individual who needed to be rescued.
    While I frantically struggled getting him to a rescue center, I also meanwhile fought with the gnawing pain and revulsion of how this happened in a (so-called) Islamic state of Pakistan? How could normal, educated or otherwise, pious and religiously conservative Pukhtuns tolerate an innocent soul, naked and unprotected, walking in the jungle of human greed and avarice – without arousing any pity or guilt?
    Was he a refugee from the several militancy-hit and military-bombed tribal areas where hundreds of thousands nameless people have been displaced in recent years? Was he born a mentally challenged or did circumstances make him such? What circumstances then? Where is his family? No mother or father would let her/his child roam the street naked, even if very poor and needy? Then were both the parents dead? Kkilled by militants or the military operation raging in those unfortunate lands? How did he end up in the metropolis? Where does he reside? Living with the elements of nature in a hostile environment. Will he meet the same fate as other innocent children of the street? Killed or gagged or molested? How many more like him readily available for the “suicide bomber” recruiters?
    Is he part of this modern, technologically advanced world? Or we have become desensitized and are in a total state of denial – just like the scavenging, man-eating beasts of the Stone Age. As the lines got blurred and I struggled with these myriad answers, the boy had disappeared from my radar. Another human soul lost to the callous, pitiless reality of living in the fast lane.
    Adil Zareef

  9. Aalam sister
    Finally you dared to write the article which was badly needed. I used to
    write comments against this sensational media on dawn but they have always
    moderated and never let any comment appear which criticizes media.
    thanks for this great effort.

    your brother
    Irtiza Rizvi
    Houston TX

  10. asalamuAlekum madam
    without proper concentration no one is able to be sociable. We cannot be a developed nation without education. Our education system has been ruined by the teachers who do not or cannot teach well in any language.

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